It sounds simple enough: just kick your feet up and relax. A little daily relaxation can go a long way to a healthier, happier life! In practice though, relaxation can be tough to achieve, and most of us aren’t giving ourselves enough downtime every day.
Mental Health America says that relaxation is essential for both physical and mental wellbeing. But “relaxing” or “downtime” rarely makes it into already packed schedules, with 78 percent of Americans admitting that they do not set aside time to unwind each day according to the latest Relaxation Report, an annual survey commissioned by Princess Cruises.
And, even when we have the time to relax, we’re not taking advantage of it! The Princess survey found that 46 percent of Americans did not use all the vacation time available to them.
When we do relax, 38 percent of us actually feel guilty for relaxing. (If that’s you, read on for the health benefits of relaxation.)
Clearly, something’s got to give.
Some of the most common reasons for having hard time relaxing include a hectic job, having too many things to do, feeling relied upon at work and at home, and general feelings of anxiety.
Almost a third of Americans (59 percent) say the current political climate and current events make it hard to relax. Technology is another common culprit that keep the mind and body racing, not relaxing, with 68 percent of us watching TV right before bed, and 39 percent checking social media.
WHY WE NEED TO CHILL OUT
The stress of daily life—traffic, screaming kids, an unusually bossy boss, looming deadlines, ill parents—releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline into our systems. At sustained high levels, they can damage the immune system (that “worn out” feeling) and even damage neurotransmitters in the brain.
Many day-to-day complaints like insomnia, chronic headaches and even digestive issues can be linked to stress and the lack of relaxation.
Plus, the American Diabetes Association warns that long-term stress can cause high blood glucose levels, which in turn increases the risk of both kidney and heart disease.
Relaxing can literally reverse the damage that stress does to our bodies. When we relax, the body releases chemicals that slow down the muscles and organs, while increasing blood flow to the brain. (This is why sometimes we find the answer to a problem when we’re seemingly doing nothing.) Relaxing eases the load on the nervous system, and should leave you feeling more calm and alert.
Relaxation slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. Breathing becomes easier, slower and deeper—enriching the blood and delivering more oxygen to tissues and organs.
Relaxing can even boost productivity. (Even Einstein was a reported fan of a restorative afternoon nap!)
Even if we all already know that stress is bad, and relaxing is good (and science proves it!), why aren’t we relaxing more often in the name of good health?
Maybe we’ve forgotten how to relax?
HOW TO RELAX
While most of us can’t really walk away from a stressful job or wave a magic wand and get out of debt or resolve our loved one’s health issue, we can take daily action to promote relaxation and reduce stress hormones in our bodies.
Try one of the these simple but effective actions, and make a conscious effort to incorporate some form of relaxation into your day.
Most of these ideas can be done easily at home, and in as a little as a few minutes. Note that vegging out in front of the TV or drinking a few glasses of wine aren’t on the list; while these are popular chillaxing behaviors, they actually do very little to promote good hormones or to calm down the mind and body.
No matter what relaxation technique you use, make it consistent. And, if you do nothing else, try one of the quick fixes whenever you feel yourself revving up into stress mode.
1. Get a quick fix. Boss driving you mad? Feel like you want to throw your laptop out the window? When you can literally feel your blood pressure rising, it’s time for a quick fix. Any of these methods can immediately lower your stress and have a positive physiological effect:
- Take 10 deep breaths. Breathe in for a count of five, hold it, breathe out for a count of five. Repeat 9 more times.
- Put on your ear buds, turn on some soothing music or nature sounds, and close your eyes for five minutes.
- Get outside and take a walk. Science shows that seeing the color green has an immediate calming effect on the body. If you can’t get outside, do a visualization, seeing yourself in a green meadow, or in a forest.
2. Avoid common stressors. Literally turn off the TV or news radio if current events stress you out, and shut down computers and other electronics at least an hour before bed. Set your phone to “do not disturb” when you’re in relaxation mode, too.
3. Do a hobby. Read a book (an actual book, not an electronic device if tech plays a part in your stress), play a game with your kids, or do arts and crafts.
4. Engage in a mind-body practice. Meditation and practices that incorporate meditation with movement, such as yoga and tai chi, are great for promoting relaxation. (Click here for our complete class schedule.)
5. Treat yourself. Supplement your daily relaxation time with weekly or monthly treatments. Schedule regular relaxing treatments like massages, salt room sessions, or flotation therapy at Feeling Groovy Wellness Center. (Give us a call at 909-480-1711 to schedule an appointment.)
6. Try CBD oil. Taking daily doses of this essential oil has been shown to reduce stress and promote clarity.
7. Laugh more. But seriously, laughter releases feel-good hormones (endorphins) that counteract the baddies like cortisol.
8. Take a warm bath. Add 1 c. Epsom salt to soothe muscles, and a few drops of lavender oil to calm the senses.
9. Watch what you drink. Caffeine can stay in the system for up to eight hours, making it hard to wind down, so avoid caffeine after 2 pm. And, even if that after work tipple feels like it takes the edge off, consuming alcohol can actually cause anxiety once the “relaxing” effects wear off. So, limit alcohol consumption overall, and have that last glass of wine at least three hours before bed.
10. Get into a sleep rhythm. Whether you’re a 10 pm to 6 am or midnight to 7 am kind of person, getting enough sleep consistently can help with energy levels and stamina, even during stressful days.
The bottom line: don’t wait for the weekend or your next vacation to relax. Relaxation should be a part of an everyday health routine, just like physical activity or drinking lots of water.
Always remember, what works for one person might not work for you. So, find something that you enjoy that gives your body and your mind the feeling of being focused, calm and refreshed—the hallmarks of true relaxation.